To defeat radicalism, everyone needs to turn off their oil spiggot

Alarm bells over the threat from Islamic fanaticism and its state sponsors are sounding ever more loudly. Saudi Arabia’s Islamist madrassas. Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas. And worst of all, Iran’s nuclear program and its promises to annihilate Israel.

Although the warnings are sharp, the prescriptions for action are diffuse. International sanctions — which AIPAC aggressively promotes to address the Iranian nuclear threat — are probably insufficient. We lack a strategy that can alter the balance of power against Islamist radicals.

One component of a strategy stares at us every time we fill up at the gas pump. When we buy gasoline, we pay what amounts to a huge tax.

But that tax is not levied by our government to address needs at home. That tax props up corrupt, anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish governments.

It finances Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi plutocracy and its hate-filled acolytes around the world.

It provides Iran the financing for its nuclear bomb project — and for Hezbollah, Hamas, and conferences to forget the Holocaust.

Are we serious about our national security? Are we serious about Jewish security? Are we serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear bomb? If we are, then we must reduce the flow of oil revenues to our enemies.

Tom Friedman has pointed out the close relationship between oil consumption and threats to our security. In a New York Times column just before the election, he noted:

“George Bush told us we’re addicted to oil, but he has not done one single significant thing — demanded higher mileage standards from Detroit, imposed a gasoline tax or even used the bully pulpit of the White House to drive conservation — to end that addiction. So we continue to finance the U.S. military with our tax dollars, while we finance Iran, Syria, Wahhabi mosques and al Qaida madrassas with our energy purchases.”

Friedman was pointing to a disconnection in our national political leadership, but the same disconnection is evident in our own community. AIPAC has warned us of the Iranian threat, but has AIPAC led a campaign to reduce oil consumption? The Jewish Council for Public Affairs — the umbrella organization for JCRCs — recently announced a new energy campaign. The campaign’s objective: each of us should change an incandescent bulb to a fluorescent bulb. The goal: to slow global warming.

Global warming is a vital issue. But why didn’t the JCPA position this campaign as essential to reducing an immediate security threat? It’s going to take decades to address global warming. We need to weaken Islamic fundamentalism now. We need to stop the Iranian bomb project now.

This is a national security and Jewish security concern of the utmost gravity. We know that military action can have fateful and unpredictable consequences. But there are few risks to depriving our enemies of the financial basis for their corrupt power.

So let’s make some decisions:

We must aggressively advocate for a “combined arms” approach to reducing oil revenues to our adversaries. We must urge that tax policy, innovation policy and regulatory policy be employed to promote alternative energy sources.

We must make it worthwhile for investors to support alternative energy. That means keeping oil and gas prices to consumers high even as oil consumption declines. This requires us to tax gas at the pump like Europeans (at least on this issue the Europeans are far more aggressive in countering Islamic fundamentalism than we are). That means bearing a bit of pain — and being proud of it.

We must incessantly press our elected officials to make reducing oil consumption a top priority. Let’s be realistic here. Israel’s survival depends far more on reducing Iranian oil revenues than on financial aid from the U.S. But far more of our political energy is dedicated to getting aid for Israel than on reducing our oil dependence.

And as individuals, we must not drive gas-guzzlers. No excuses. No “I need it for Tahoe.” We need to lead by example. When we drive gas-guzzlers, we give aid and comfort to people who have declared us “dogs” and a “virus” and who want to annihilate Israel.

We simply must close the spigot of oil money from our terrifying enemies. There is no time for any more dawdling. We know what needs to be done. Can we organize ourselves to do it?

Michael A. Jacobs is an attorney in San Francisco, past chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and an officer of the Jewish Community Federation. The views in this article do not represent any organizational position.